At Northumbrian Water, we care about people and their health. We want you to know what you can do if you have lead pipe work.
If your home was built before 1970 it is more likely to have lead pipe work. Water can pick up lead from the smaller pipework that goes from the water main to your tap.
Medical experts agree that there is no known level of lead considered safe, so it’s best to minimise your intake of lead as much as possible. The NHS also highlights the increased risk of lead intake to pregnant women and young children.
Have you got lead pipes?
If your house was built before 1970 it is more likely to have lead pipe work. If you’re not sure if you have lead pipes you can make a few checks.
• Look for the water pipe which comes into the house and goes to the kitchen tap. Every home is different but you might be able to see it behind the kitchen cupboards, in a cupboard such as under the stairs or where the internal stop tap is.
• Unpainted lead pipes are a dull or dark grey colour with joints which look swollen. If you gently scrape the surface with a knife you will see a shiny silver colour underneath.
• It might be worth having a chat with a neighbour if their home is a similar age to yours - if they know they have lead pipes, yours might be too.
In order from left to right: lead, specialist barrier pipe (copper and plastic), plastic, copper.
Ownership of pipework
The pipe which runs from the water main to inside your home is called the service pipe. A service pipe is split into two parts; the communication pipe and the supply pipe. The communication pipe is owned by Northumbrian Water and is the part which goes from the water main in the street to the boundary of your property. The supply pipe goes from the boundary of your property, into your home. This is the pipe which is owned by you or your landlord.
What we′re doing about lead pipes?
When water leaves our treatment works and water mains it doesn’t have lead in it but water can pick up lead if it goes through old lead pipework. Lead can be found in the pipework which goes from the water main to inside your home. Homes built before 1970 are likely to have lead pipes. Lead can also be found in brass fittings and lead based solder used on copper pipes.
Currently we add phosphate to the water which forms a barrier on the inside of lead pipes and is very effective at reducing the amount of lead that can dissolve into the water.
As it is best to minimise your intake of lead as much as possible we think it’s best to remove the lead pipe and replace it. We have a programme of work in place to replace our lead communication pipes to meet our goal of becoming free from lead pipes. We analyse data to inform us where to prioritise our replacement schemes. In addition we also replace our lead communication pipes on an adhoc basis. This includes:
• If we sample your tap water and it has a lead result greater than 4 micrograms per litre. The required drinking water standard is 10 micrograms per litre.
• If you inform us you have replaced your lead supply pipe.
• If we are replacing our water mains we’ll replace any non-plastic communication pipes.
How can I reduce the amount of lead I drink?
Replacing your lead pipe with a new plastic pipe is the best way to get rid of the lead completely. A plumber can help you do this. Approved plumbers can be found on the WaterSafe website at www.watersafe.org.uk. In the meantime, there’s a few steps you can take to lower the lead levels in your water:
Cold water: Only use water from the cold kitchen tap for drinking and cooking. Hot water dissolves more lead. Boiling water does not remove lead and you should empty and refill the kettle before each use so you are not reboiling the water.
Run the tap: Always run the tap before using the water for drinking, cooking or brushing your teeth. This is particularly important if the water has been stood for any length of time such as overnight or when you’ve been out of the house for several hours. To remove any standing water run the tap at a medium flow until the sink or washing up bowl is full. This would usually be enough for a pipe up to 40 metres long. Flushing the toilet or having a shower will also remove the standing water.
What are the benefits of replacing your old lead pipe work?
• Peace of mind and not worrying about flushing your tap before every use.
• It can improve your water pressure and flow as lead pipes tend to be smaller than new plastic pipes.
• A new pipe will be less likely to leak which will save you money and an untimely disruption in the long run.
Find out more
If you’re not sure if you have lead pipes, you can call us for a free lead test on 0345 717 1100.
The Drinking Water Inspectorate provide information and advice to consumers on the quality of drinking water. Their advice leaflet on lead can be found on their website.
Further information can also be found on the websites for Public Health England and The World Health Organisation.